If you belong to a sales-oriented organization, (like many B2B and high customer LTV companies), sales leads are your lifeblood.
Most founders and sales leaders I come across feel pretty confident in their ability to sell as long as they have people to talk to. Their main concern is keeping the lead flow spigot open.
The following is a quick-start guide to building a repeatable, measurable process for generating leads for your sales team. The focus of this article is on the activities leading up to getting your sales people on the phone with qualified prospects. We’ll leave the rest for other articles and resources.
Who Needs This?
This process of outbound lead generation is specifically for sales-oriented companies. Typically, that means companies that sell business-to-business (B2B) with average customer lifetime values (LTV) over ten thousand dollars.
Companies that sell business-to-consumer (B2C) or that have lower average customer LTVs are usually better served with an inbound-first lead generation strategy.
There are always exceptions to the recommendations above. For example: a B2B startup with a low average customer LTV, who needs their first fifty customers in order to prove traction and get product feedback, would be an exception. They might find it worth their while to start with an outbound lead generation strategy before transitioning to a long-term outbound-heavy strategy.
Understand Your Sales Cycle
It’s important to understand that high LTV, B2B products and services typically have longer sales cycles. That means the length of time between awareness of your brand and purchase is probably going to be several months, if not a year or more.
The reason B2B sales cycles are longer is there are usually going to be multiple decision makers that all need to be educated, warmed, and signed-off on purchasing your product or service.
Therefore, your outbound lead generation program should be seen as a long term investment. You’re planting seeds that will be harvested three, six, twelve months down the road.
Understand Your Market Size
If you became very good at generating outbound leads, how long would it take you to identify everyone in your target market? Outbound lead generation typically works best when there are still prospects to discover.
For example: if you sell to grocery stores and you’ve already identified and reached out to every grocery store in your geographical reach, investing time and money into outbound lead generation is not going to help you. Instead, you might be better served to invest more time into your existing contacts or developing into additional markets.
Identify Your Target Audience
Start by documenting your ideal target customer. What industry is the business in? How many employees? How much revenue? What are some possible job titles that represent potential end users of your product or service? What are the job titles that represent potential decision makers? What job titles are their potential direct supervisors?
Create Some Introductory Content
It’s important to have a few pieces of really good content, but not to get bogged down in content creation. For example, create a really good free report, video, or webinar educating your potential customers on how to solve a problem they are aware of.
Once you have one or two pieces of good content, move on! Don’t bog yourself down with a weekly or daily content requirement. Start with what you’ve got and get selling!
Understand the Awareness Gap
Are your prospective customers even aware of the problem you are trying to solve for them? Often, they’re not. This is especially true for innovative products and services that use new technology or ways of thinking to add value for people.
If there is an awareness gap between the problem your product or service solves and your target customer, you’ll have to allow more time in your sales cycle for educating your prospects.
Start by identifying a larger problem that your prospects are aware of. For example, let’s say you’re selling project management software that uses the concept of Kan-Ban in a new and innovative way. Are your customers even aware of the concept of Kan-Ban?
If not, you wouldn’t want to reach out to people under the precept of making Kan-Ban easier for them. Start with the larger problem: being more efficient at project management.
Set up Stages in your CRM
In preparation for building a list of leads, set up stages in your CRM to handle the status of each new lead. Here is an example:
01 New Lead
02 Attempted Contact
04 Discovery Call Set
05 Discovery Call Attended
This article is concerned with getting your leads to “Discovery Call Attended.” You will most likely have a number of other stages leading up to a final outcome such as:
Build a List
Start building a list of companies and individuals within those companies that fit your criteria for target customer. At a minimum, you’re looking for a name, title, company and some sort of contact information.
Accurate phone numbers and email addresses are the most reliable types of contact information, but lacking those, a social media account such as Linkedin, Twitter, or Facebook account will get you started.
These lists can be built manually using internet searches and LinkedIn, or purchased from a reliable database provider.
Set a goal to reach out to a certain number of prospects per day… 50 or 100 for example. Use whatever contact information you have at your disposal.
The purpose of the initial contact should not be to push your products or services. Stay away from your “elevator pitch” until much later in the relationship.
Remember, you’re simply trying to initiate the start of a relationship that you hope to progress over time into a business relationship. Start with the simple goal of getting a referral to the right person in the organization.
When using email, stay away from graphical emails that look like advertisements. Send emails that are text-only and have no more than a few paragraphs.
Here’s an example:
“Hi Sarah, my name is Bob and your company caught my attention because of your participation in the upcoming XYZ trade show. Can you point me in the direction of the person in charge of generating traffic to your booth?
We’re helping some of the other exhibitors and I’d love to just brainstorm for 5 or 10 minutes to see if there might be a fit. In any case, I think they’d be interested in hearing what techniques some of the others are using.
Thanks, and I look forward to hearing back from you.”
Notice that there’s no mention of features & benefits. The call-to-action is simply a referral. It’s an easy ask for the recipient to simply reply with the person’s name.
Make sure you have a link to your introductory content in the signature of your email. Interested prospects will click to learn more.
Secure a Discovery Call
Once you’ve been referred to the right person, the next step is to get them on the phone for a quick “Discovery Call.”
You’ll have the best chance for getting a call if you tone down the sales-speak so they don’t feel like it’s just going to be a big sales pitch.
A discovery call is simply a way for both of you to get to know each other to see if there might be a potential fit either way. Try to give them some value even if they don’t become a customer.
Most people will not respond to your first attempt to contact them. People lead busy lives and tend to be weary of cold contact.
Follow up every few days for five or six attempts. After that, it’s safe to assume that they are not interested.
Measure and Systematize
If your team has properly documented all of your interactions and stage progressions in your CRM, you will start to build valuable data. What percentage of leads respond, either positively or negatively, to your initial contact? What percentage respond to the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth follow up?
What percentage of those who respond end up referring you? What percentage of those referrals end up in booking a discovery call? What percentage of booked discovery calls end up attending? What percentage of attended discovery calls continue in the process and eventually become customers?
Once you know your conversion percentages, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to do to produce more business predictably.
Ideally, the process of list building, reach-out, and follow-up would be a full-time job. Some companies call this a Sales Development Rep (SDR) or Business Development Rep (BDR). Their ultimate goal is to pass off sales qualified leads (SQLs) to an Account Rep (AR) to close.
On smaller teams, a single sales person could work the entire process from prospecting to close. I would recommend avoiding combining this role with inbound marketing efforts. It’s difficult to balance the daily activities involved in outbound prospecting with inbound lead generation. One side or the other will ultimately suffer.